Local ski hills and huge resorts alike are gearing up for a busy season as wintry weather arrives early in the state.
Sunday River in Newry saw a 20 percent increase in the number of skiers and riders on its slopes during the Thanksgiving weekend from last year, according to spokesperson Darcy Morse.
The mountain opened two trails on Oct. 26.
As of Monday, 32 out of 135 trails and five lifts were open and more snowmaking is ahead next week, according to Monday’s mountain report.
Morse said the upcoming season overall was looking positive, with a five percent boost in season pass sales over last year and a 10 percent bump to Christmas vacation bookings.
Sugarloaf also saw busier-than-average traffic during Thanksgiving weekend, according to spokesperson Ethan Austin. The lateness of the holiday this year might explain the boost in attendance, but it was difficult to make direct comparisons to last year’s numbers, Austin said.
The mountain, located in Carrabassett, opened Nov. 22, and already has 10 of its 154 trails open.
The unseasonably cold weather has been good for snowmaking, but the natural snow that has graced the region in the past week is also good for the mountain’s aesthetics, Austin noted.
“It improves the skiing, but it’s also great for the psyche to see some fresh snow on the ground,” he said. “It looks more like winter when you have a little fresh snow.”
Last year’s strong ski season has also helped boost season pass sales, which are up 10 percent over last year.
“There’s always sort of a hangover effect from whatever your previous season was,” Austin said.
Pass sales for the 2013 season were brought down by the dismal winter sport season in 2012, Austin said, but sales for the upcoming season have been buoyed by the record-breaking season the mountain had in 2013.
“That’s kind of the memory people have of skiing so if you have a really good season, people tend to be a little bit more excited coming into the new season,” Austin said.
Sunday River and Sugarloaf have each invested heavily in new energy-efficient snowmaking equipment in order to have enough snow on the slopes to fulfill demand, particularly early in the season.
Smaller hills across the region, like Mt. Abram in Greenwood, Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, Black Mountain in Rumford and Titcomb Hill in Farmington are making the most of the cold snap by making snow to get trails ready to open in mid-December.
Greg Sweetser, the executive director of the Ski Maine Association, said the early snow and cold weather should help the ski hills maintain their snowmaking efforts.
“Snowmaking takes a lot of time, energy and money,” Sweetser said. “It’s prime when you can have temperatures in the teens and low humidity, and last week, we had some real winter temperatures.”
Even with warmer temperatures and some precipitation heading into the region this week, Sweetser said conditions should remain cold enough so that the snow that has already been made will stick to the trails.
More than anything, Sweetser hopes the cold weather and snow is getting people in a winter frame of mind.
“It’s the mood of the consumer and what’s happening in their backyard that has a big impact on people’s thoughts on skiing,” Sweetser said.
“I think there’s good energy for winter,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”